Building a college football program is hard, but athletic directors and schools have a long history of making it harder by overvaluing things they shouldn’t care about. Tennessee Football has made that mistake numerous times. Here are the five most overrated factors people care about for some reason when building a program.
5. A coach’s ability to recruit
I’m not saying recruiting isn’t important. It’s truly the lifeblood of a program, which is why this is last on the list. However, the pool of dedicated recruiters is deep. At any time in college football, if your school has a coach who is one of the top recruiters in the nation, he is competing with maybe 50 other coaches who are on that list.
None of them are uniquely better than the other. At that point, it comes down to other advantages the program as a whole has. Simply put, when hiring a head coach, ability to recruit should be a baseline but not the sole selling point. If your program is in the dumps, it won’t be the game changer.
4. Off-field gimmicks that create buzz
Ask the Maryland Terrapins about this. In 2011, they debuted hideous uniforms for their Monday night opener against the Miami Hurricanes on national television to kick off the Randy Edsall era. They won that game. That was the high point. UMD finished the year 2-10, never won more than seven games under Edsall and fired him in 2015.
Tennessee Football made the same mistake with Butch Jones. That was when the Vols unveiled the Smokey Greys, and Jones was the first active coach on Twitter. His recruiting only got worse year by year, though. This isn’t to say buzz doesn’t help somewhat, but buzz without substance is useless.
3. Number of college football games nationally broadcast
Maybe this mattered in the 1990s, and indeed, the Vols took advantage of it. However, with every Power Five conference having a national network combined with cord-cutting, the value of playing lots of games on national television is very little now. Almost every team plays most of their games on national TV.
UT was probably hurt more than most by the increase in nationally televised games, as it brought in more revenue sharing, allowing other schools to have a recruiting budget similar to theirs. Simply put, nobody has an advantage anymore just because they have most of their games broadcast across the country.
2. College football pedigree of the head coach
Mike Hamilton made two horrendous hires based on this alone, and Phillip Fulmer also made a bad hire based on this. Hamilton hired Lane Kiffin because of his father and the staff he could bring in. That blew up in his face. Then he hired Derek Dooley in part because of his father being Vince Dooley.
Dooley was also hired because he coached under Nick Saban and had deep ties to the SEC. Those are the same reasons Fulmer hired Pruitt, and they don’t matter AT ALL. Saban has had some assistants work out, and some fail. A coach’s potential is his own merit. Saban and Urban Meyer had no SEC ties when hired to the league.
Nothing is more delusional than a fan base who thinks its program will return to glory because of the past. Ask the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets and Pittsburgh Panthers, two powerhouse programs of the 1920s. Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans need to accept it too. Vol fans took forever to accept it.
History has no bearing on future success. Recruits care nothing about that. There was a reason that program built up tradition in the first place, and rather than rest on that, they need to find new ways to generate success and build up new traditions. Otherwise, they’ll be stuck as the decades passing reminiscing about what once was.